So I’m 42 weeks pregnant, and my now swollen and bloated body has fallen at the first hurdle of motherhood – it still refuses to go into labour.
It’s not like I haven’t given it plenty of hints – I don’t normally consume my own body weight in pineapple, or consent to sex this often – but the evacuation notice has gone unheeded and the sitting tenant refuses to budge.
I now have three options available to me.
ONE: Have yet another ‘membrane sweep’ – essentially the medical term for ‘sticking two fingers up your fanny and frantically wiggling them around until you realise nature won’t be so easily outwitted’.
TWO: Wait it out, and take regular trips to the hospital to ensure the baby isn’t slowly suffocating or starving to death thanks to a placenta that’s way past its prime.
THREE: Book myself a one-way ticket on the pain train and opt for an induction.
I demure on option one. Why pay midwives to perform this pointless procedure when we could save the NHS millions by getting sexually inexperienced teenagers to happily do it for free?
Option two feels loaded with risk. I am, at 37, a relatively old first-time mum. I’m already surprised that my dustbowl of a womb has been able to support more than tumbleweed these last nine (and a half) months. I don’t want to push my luck.
So three it is. The dreaded induction. I’ve been on those pregnancy forums. I know that for every ‘induction was the best thing that ever happened to me’ story, there are ten others that end like Apocalypse Now, with mothers lying prostrate on the floor, spattered in their own placental blood, muttering “the horror….the horror..”.
So here I am, at the hospital. With the husband. Despite our misgivings, we’re determined to remain positive about the whole thing. Maybe we’ll get to use the birth pool after all? Maybe we’ll get our monies’ worth out of the TENS machine I’ve hired? Maybe we’ll have a baby in the next 24 hours?
Yep. And maybe Godzilla will organise a ‘Beautify Tokyo’ campaign…..
For the uninitiated amongst you, ‘induction of labour’ has three stages to it.
The first pointless one.
The second pointless one.
The third one where you projectile vomit your way around the birthing suite begging for an epidural.
For those of you interested in the slightly longer version, here it is:
Stage 1: Propess
What it should do: A pessary that releases synthetic prostaglandin E2, a hormone responsible for the softening and ripening of the cervix so that it opens up and labour becomes established.
What it does do: Brings on 8 hours of s-t-r-o-n-g contractions.
What it doesn’t do: Open my cervix.
It’s a bit like the Tony Blair years. You get all the fun bits of labour, but there’s absolutely nothing to show for it at the end.
Stage 2: Prostin
What it should do: A gel that releases synthetic prostaglandin E2, a hormone responsible for the softening and ripening of the cervix so that it opens up and labour becomes established.
What it does do: Brings on 8 hours of r-e-a-l-l-y s-t-r-o-n-g contractions.
What it doesn’t do: Open my cervix.
In fact, I go backwards.
I started this whole sorry affair at 2cm dilated. To put this into perspective, a lot of women can be up to 4cm dilated JUST DURING PREGNANCY. Like, months off giving birth.
Whereas me, after TWO DAYS of mind-altering pain, am found to be 1.5cm. or one and a half fingers.
“There must be some mistake,” I cry. “It’s because you have digits like sausages. Get an anorexic midwife to have a furtle around in there. Or someone with a withered hand. I MUST HAVE PROGRESS.”
We give it another few hours, at the end of which I’m a mass of snot and sick and sweat. I can’t speak. I can’t think. I definitely can’t enjoy my misguided husband’s attempts at ‘cheering me up’.
The TENS machine has been cast aside. After the initial novelty of feeling like a billion spiders were hatching out of my kidneys every five seconds, I realise it’s as effective at treating labour pain as a band-aid is at treating the soggy bloodied stump of an accidental amputation.
I scream for diamorphine to give me a moment’s relief from the interminable suffering.
So surely now I’m in established labour, right? Surely if I was given an internal examination now a satisfied look would sweep across the beatific face of the midwife as she describes feeling the silken hair on my son’s head between my vaginal lips as he readies himself for his entry into the world?
No. Instead it’s like that scene in Total Recall (the 90’s one), where Arnie, face red, eyes bulging out of his sockets, sweat pouring from his brow, desperately strains to try to reach the button to kick-start the oxygen reactor. My cervix, the midwife informs me, remains as ripe as a green tomato.
Barnacles have migrated quicker than my cervix has moved in the last two days of so-called induction.
There’s nothing else for it than to go for Stage 3.
Stage 3: Syntocinon
What it should do: Synthetic oxytocin delivered intravenously that forces the womb to contract strongly and consistently.
What it does do: Turns our baby into a mini Felix Baumgartner, who base-jumps through the birth canal so quickly, he almost dislocates his head on my pubic bone and has to be extracted by force.
What it doesn’t do: Anything good.
Okay, so here I have to confess to not really experiencing the unholy contractions that Sytocinon brings on. I’ve wimped out and asked (begged) for an epidural – an outcome I had hoped to avoid at all costs due to fear of nasty after-effects (with which I am subsequently blessed).
But I do get to watch them on a monitor. They are monumental. Gargantuan. Off the scale. Literally. ‘Blimey’, I think, as I watch them rising, rising, rising ever onwards with barely a second’s break in between. ‘You’ve got to respect anyone who chooses to do this without pain relief’. Or section them.
Because induced labour really is an unbearable pain in the front arse (and the back one too it turns out). And not just for the expectant parents.
It took three days for Edgar to arrive. That’s seventy-two hours of round-the-clock care from an extensive team of people. An EU mountain-sized amount of rubber gloves, lube and really bad food foisted upon my various orifices.
Add to this the fact that artificially inducing labour makes interventions such as forceps or c-sections way more likely. This in turn leads to longer hospital stays and more follow-up appointments where a succession of kindly women ask you if you’d like them to look at your piles.
I know I’m only a sample of one, but do we have to question whether the three-step induction process (or indeed, such widespread offering of induction full-stop) is the most effective use of already-stretched NHS resources?
I’d be genuinely interested in exploring the question further, were it not for more pressing matters – like finding myself in possession of an 8lb 3oz little boy with a tendency to shit vertically.
So I’ll summarise with a bad analogy instead.
Induction is a bit like the movie Inception. It starts with a load of pseudo-scientific claptrap, gets increasingly more difficult to sit still through, and after what seems like a lifetime, you’re still not entirely convinced that anyone will get to see their kids at the end of it….